In 1947, the first Tucker 48 – the prototype known as “The Tin Goose” – was on its way for unveiling when the weight of its heavy, rear-mounted and air-cooled engine proved too much for the car’s rear suspension, which broke. Undaunted, Preston Tucker went on to build 51 cars based on that prototype, 47 of which remain among the most cherished of collector cars.
Wednesday, as some 70 classic car experts gathered in northern Virginia for the third Historic Vehicle Association Summit, that original Tucker prototype was announced as the fifth car to be included in the National Historic Vehicle Registry. And the Tin Goose did it again. This time, it was a weld on the left rear hub that let go as the car was rolling toward its parking place of honor in front of the Salamander resort and spa where the HVA is gathered.
“But this is the history of this car,” noted Mark Gessler, president of the HVA, who led the faithful out a back door and down through a garden and out a gate to see the Tucker still sitting on a paved lane behind the resort, awaiting its rescue by its transport trailer.
Gessler also was undaunted, noting the car’s historical significance — the first all-new American car in 50 years — and Tucker’s role as an American entrepreneurial icon.
While his company went bankrupt, Tucker kept the prototype until 1950. It was sold again in 1972 and again — this time at auction — in 1998 to its current owner, the Swigart Automobile Museum, which not only also has the 13th Tucker produced, but the real Herbie the Love Bug movie car and more than 150 other historic vehicles.
Though perhaps not widely known, the museum is the oldest auto museum in the U.S., established in 1920 by W. Emmet Swigart in a carriage house in front of his insurance company’s offices. Swigart’s son, William L. Swigart, built the current museum facility in 1957 in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, on what used to be the main road from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.
In a video shown as part of the HVA announcement, John Tucker, grandson of Preston Tucker, noted that his grandfather raised millions of dollars from investors based on the Tin Goose prototype. He also noted that the car was welcomed by a post-war nation “hungry for a car and for getting on with America.”
“Even though he failed,” John Tucker said of his grandfather, “he won in the end,” as one of the country’s most beloved automotive icons, builder of now-cherished cars but best-known — and far beyond the classic car world — as the subject of the movie, Tucker.
The four cars previously designated for inclusion in the National Historic Vehicle Register were the championship-winning 1964 Shelby Daytona Coupe, the original 1964 Meyers Manx dune buggy, the Indy-winning 1939 Maserati 8CTF “Boyle Special,” and a 1918 Cadillac Type 57 still carrying a bullet hole from its service in Europe during World War I.